(Out)caste Education: Laman Banjara Student Identity and Linguistic Marginalization in Rural India
Jessica Chandras

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



University of North Florida

Primary Discipline

India's socially segregated society remains a barrier to educational equity for students of lower castes, low classes, and non-Hindu religions. My project focuses on the role of linguistic inclusivity for equity in education by examining impacts of caste, language, and identity in education for students from a socially marginalized, Denotified Tribal group in a rural region of the western Indian state of Maharashtra. Through qualitative ethnographic methods, I explore social stratification and the political economy of language evidenced in education among communities with two different home languages, or mother tongues: Marathi, the official state language of Maharashtra and Banjara, a language spoken by the formally nomadic community. The question framing this study asks how Banjara students, a group positioned at the margins of caste and socioeconomic status in India, understand and craft their identities in education through a distinct language within prevailing social hierarchies? Building on the need for more pedagogical scaffolding for Banjara students to learn Marathi identified through a pilot study in 2022, the project goals include creating research-practitioner partnerships to address equity in education through linguistic inclusivity and building interventions for greater access to educational advancement and inclusive pedagogies for linguistic minorities. Theoretical implications contribute to educational sociolinguistics and studies of language in education, identity, and belonging in learning sciences and the linguistic anthropology of education. This study builds a model to collaboratively shape educational structures, through language mediums of instruction, to broaden education equity by empowering further inclusivity of students from diverse linguistic and social backgrounds.
About Jessica Chandras
Jessica Sujata Chandras is an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of North Florida in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work. As a linguistic anthropologist, Dr. Chandras uses qualitative, ethnographic and sociolinguistic research methods to examine values attached to language and multilingual language socialization practices pertaining to education through a lens of power. She explores political economies of language with a focus on intersections of language and socioeconomic class, caste, and linguistic politics in education, policy, and revitalization movements based in urban and rural Maharashtra, India. Dr. Chandras?s focus on multilingualism in education and social stratification was inspired by teaching English in the Basque Country for two years before pursuing her PhD. Her research in India has been supported by the International Society of the Learning Sciences and the Wallace Foundation and she was previously an NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellow. Her book, Mother Tongue Prestige: The Sociolinguistics of Privilege in Urban Middle-Class Education in India is forthcoming from Routledge in 2023. Dr. Chandras received her PhD in Anthropology from the George Washington University, in Washington, DC in 2019 and graduated with honors from the University of Washington with a BA in Anthropology with a minor in Spanish in 2010. Her work on language, education, and pedagogy has been featured in the journals Language and Education (2021), Teaching Anthropology (2021), Critical Asian Studies (2019), and Contemporary Education Dialogue (2022).

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